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REVIEW: ‘Ibong Adarna’ is a vivid dream come to life

REVIEW: ‘Ibong Adarna’ is a vivid dream come to life

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The most beautiful aspect of the universe is that each day offers an opportunity for metamorphosis. We have the choice to grow through what we go through. Ballet Manila’s triumphant Ibong Adarna 2.0 is a manifestation of this beautiful gift.

Ballet Manila went through hell and back when they lost their theater. It also suffered through the effects of typhoon after typhoon, endured a prolonged pandemic, and weathered the loss of many strong dancers and scholars. But it seemed like the pause button helped them gather strength and cultivate creativity. Ibong Adarna seemed like a raw but promising ballet in 2017. It was a vibrant first take on the Filipino story. As time went on, Choreographer Gerardo Francisco let the ballet evolve alongside him.

The ballet narrates the timeless tale of a sick king who seeks healing from a mythical bird known for its heartwarming, therapeutic melodies. In the quest for the Adarna, the brothers reveal their true natures, with the youngest Prince shining as the pure-hearted savior of the King.

Rousing introduction

This ballet begins with a bold introduction of the three Princes who would pursue the Ibong Adarna to save their father. This “bold” beginning, a tour de force, is sure to rouse any viewer. Under Diwa de Leon’s compelling rhythms, the Palace springs to life with the ensemble evoking the energy of a spinning class. What better way to start a ballet than with an energetic opening  from the men and women of the ensemble? Within minutes, they succeeded in capturing the attention of  the audience. This lively tone persists throughout the ballet, sustaining the audience’s engagement, much like the effects of caffeine.

This is preceded by mini solos of Mark Sumaylo (Don Pedro), Romeo Peralta (Don Diego), and Don Juan (Joshua Enciso). Each dancer maximized their stage time by differentiating themselves well– Sumaylo was the strong eldest brother, Peralta was the brusque middle child, and Joshua Enciso was the young and innocent and kind prince. These three royals took us on a fabulous journey of humor, action, and light drama in their pursuit of the mythical bird.

Changing with the Times

Ibong Adarna

Abigail Oliveiro as Ibong Adarna; Photo Credit: Erica Marquez-Jacinto

Upon its 2017 premiere, this ballet received multiple awards, signifying its notable qualities. It also had all the frills that could make a ballet stand out. They had a majestic set that would really transport you to Francisco’s Kingdom of Berbanya. They had Lisa Macuja take on the role of the queen, undoubtedly drawing in audiences. They had famous actor Bodgie Pascua narrate the story, Gia Atchison Macuja perform the Adarna Arias live, and above all, they had a battalion of dancers. In this revised staging, the ballet had none of the frills. Stripped down to a minimal set, no guest artists, and a significantly smaller company, Francisco presented his revamped ballet, demonstrating that the ballet’s greatest strength lies in its solid choreography.

Francisco enhanced his already challenging choreography while retaining the finest aspects of the original staging. Virtually every segment of the ballet received an upgrade. The ensemble work reached a level of perfection, spotlighting Ballet Manila’s emerging generation of young male dancers. The performance featured an array of opportunities to showcase jumps and visually appealing unisons. In addition, various choreographic nuances were introduced, including noticeable influences from breakdance and hip-hop. The dance style also transitioned from a neoclassical ballet execution to a more rugged and contemporary flair.

The storytelling was significantly faster, and scene transitions were now seamless. Each scene maximized choreography, making repetitive mime much more understandable for the audience. Additionally, elements that previously felt awkward, such as the Alitaptap and monkey scenes, were now delightful to watch.

As this ballet was revamped for touring, the massive sets were substituted with projections. The projections really gave the ballet a fresh look, often resembling dancers within 3D paintings. Notably striking was the amazon women scene where the lead Stephanie Santiago looked like she was conjuring fireballs while dancing. Equally unforgettable was the enchanting visual of the tree of life, framing Abigail Oliveiro as the Ibong Adarna.

Expected Charisma

The leads of this ballet delivered as expected. This particular group are really the storytellers of the Company. 

Oliveiro delivered a strong performance. With her impeccable extensions and sharp footwork, she shifted from a performance reminiscent of the Russian Firebird to a distinctly Filipino portrayal. She was elusive and regal but she showed more warmth and charm as the bird that saved Berbanya. 

The royal trio, Sumaylo, Peralta, and Enciso, exuded regality and technical skill. Their biggest achievement however was clearly showing that the good always wins. Enciso as Don Juan was perfectly cast as he appeared visibly younger and really looked like the underdog. With Sumaylo’s warrior-like physique and Peralta’s bigger than life portrayal,  Enciso looked like a young innocent boy who could do no wrong. Enciso enamored the audience and really made  them root for him as the boy who could save the kingdom.

Ibong Adarna

Eva Chatal as Queen Alitaptap; Photo Credit: Erica Marquez-Jacinto


Ibong Adarna

Stephanie Santiago as Queen of the Amazon Women; Photo Credit: Erica Marquez-Jacinto

Noteworthy are Eva Chatal (Queen Alitaptap) and Stephanie Santiago (Queen of the Amazon Women). Chatal’s beauty was illuminated in the darkness, her elegant lines clearly visible as Sumaylo partnered with her. While her scene was somewhat lengthy, it added a touch of the magical essence that ballet demands. On the other hand, Santiago fully embodied the spirit of the Amazon woman. Her leaps sliced through the air like darts, exuding power even during her moments of stillness. Anselmo Dictado, portraying the king’s assistant, also exhibited unwavering commitment. His leaps and tricks showcased impressive technical prowess. Noah Esplana, however, stood out as the most surprising revelation. Despite having fewer significant scenes as the Ermitanyo and medical advisor, his few minutes of dance reintroduced him as a pivotal figure. His contemporary skill set left a strong impact, and his emotionally charged performance was truly moving. He’s certainly someone to keep an eye on.

The strength of this ballet is heavily derived from Francisco’s choreography and Diwa De Leon’s captivating music. However, the narrative itself, a magnificent piece of literature, has undergone numerous adaptations. Fortunately, Ballet Manila did justice to the beloved tale of Ibong Adarna.

What adds an interesting dimension to this version is its ongoing growth as a living piece of art. Witnessing its evolution was truly invigorating—it felt like a vibrant dream brought to life. This ballet stands as living proof that beauty can thrive regardless of the circumstances.

Tickets : Orchestra Side- P1000, Orchestra Center P2,000
Show Dates: August 19, 2023 7:00 PM and August 20, 2023 5:00 PM
Venue: Aliw Theater 
Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes (including a 15 minute intermission)
Credits: Gerardo Fracisco (choreography and libretto), Diwa De Leon (music composer and arranger), Anjie Blardony Ureta (set design), Otto Hernandez (original production design), Winter David (set design revisions and fabrication), Make it Happen Workshop (costumes/ accessories), Joaquin-Jose Aranda (lights design), Joyce Garcia (visual design), Shallah Montero (lyrics for 'Song of Adarna'), Jeanne Vicars (backing tracks vocals)
Featured Cast: Abigail Oliveiro (Adarna), Joshua Enciso (Prinsipe Juan), Mark Sumaylo (Prinsipe Pedro), Romeo Peralta (Prinsipe Diego), Rissa May Camaclang (Reyna Valeriana), Reparado Marino Jr. (Haring Fernando), Noah Esplana (Albularyo/Ermitanyo), Anselmo Dictado (Alalay ng Hari), Eva Chatal (Reyna Alitaptap), John Ralph Balagot (Lead Hunter and Monkey), Stephanie Santiago (Lead Amazona)
Ensemble: Alvin Dictado, Jamil Montibon, Jefferson Balute, John Carl Concepcion, Raymond Salcedo, Rodney Catubay, Sean Kevin Pelegrin, John Stanley Alamer, Juan Angelo De Leon, Jasmine Pia Dames, Jessica Pearl Dames, Shaira May Comeros, Jessa Balote, Angelica Tagupa, Celine Astrologo, Elyssabeth Apilado, Marinette Franco, Shamira Veronnica Drapete, Judith Po, Ainslea Esplana, Angelica Tagupa, Janell Marie Mateo, Lorraine Gaile jarlega, Andrea garcia , Germaine Dawal, John Sixto Dones, Angelou Gamayon

About the Author /


A former ballerina with Philippine Ballet Theatre, Erica Jacinto discovered her passion for dance photography and pursues her goal of making dance accessible to new audiences through her blog, http://artaturningpointe@blogspot.com. You can find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/erica.marquezjacinto